11 July 2024

Today is “World Oceans Day”, but there is no cause of celebration for Pinsak Suraswadi, director-general of Marine and Coastal Resources Department.

The world’s oceans, as well as Thai seas, are seeing global warming raising water temperatures, which is threatening corals.

Extensive coral bleaching has been reported in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand this year, with corals in 21 marine parks being affected.

Pinsak said that global sea temperatures have risen substantially this year, to the extent that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted that this will cause massive coral bleaching.

Pinsak said his department also predicts serious coral bleaching in the southern Andaman Sea and the eastern and central parts of the Gulf this summer. It has mobilised divers, volunteers and marine scientists to help monitor the situation on a real time basis.

Coral bleaching exceeding 50% is classified as serious, 11%-50% is regarded as moderate and 1%-10% is mild, said Pinsak, adding that almost all corals in Thai waters are now experiencing some level of bleaching, with serious bleaching in some areas.

He explained that coral bleaching does not mean that they are dead, but it is indicative that they are sick and in need of care. The situation in the Gulf is worse than in the Andaman Sea because of the warmer water and weaker currents in the Gulf.

“We call this “degree heating week”, said Pinsak, as he explained that corals can withstand warm seas for no more than two weeks, or they will start bleaching and die if the sea temperatures do not reduce.

He said that the peak hot period this year has, fortunately, already passed. The rain has arrived and the skies are cloudy, so he is hoping that the bleached corals will survive.

He identified the seas around Phuket, near Krabi and Phang-nga, the seas off Chumphon and Trat provinces as locations where bleaching has reached a critical point, as he urged the public to help in caring for corals.

The ways to help include refraining from feeding fish, using sun screen lotion and marine activities, such as diving, said Pinsak, adding that such measures may not help much, but it is better than not doing anything.

Another way to help corals is to protect them from exposure to direct sunlight, but this will not protect the corals from increased sea temperatures, said the director-general.